Tuesday 30 December 2008


Winter Oak at Bourne Woods, Lincolnshre

Well that was a bit of a bummer!   
Talk about a clap of vengeful thunder!   I never thought the Gentleman Upstairs, Intelligent Designer, Big G, or whoever – or whatever it is who organises the universe and things –  would give me quite such a smack in the chops for being somewhat irreverent with my last post.  OK! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!  I repent!  Mea culpa! I promise to try harder, and not to be so cynical this coming year.  Less colborning; more horticulture in the coming months, I promise!

My Granddaughter is only five but already a lover of plants and gardens.  In late 2006 she and I set some fuchsia cuttings together and later, she came back to pot her plant up and take it home.  Each time we spoke, after that, she told me that it had more and more flowers until, not surprisingly, it became easily the biggest and best fuchsia in the world.  
Keep that image in your mind, if you kindly would!

Frost on the car - it's much too cold to garden!

But for the moment, back to the bit about Divine Retribution.

It all began just after I'd popped the pictures into my last post around 21st December.  (I dare not mention the word 'Perisolstice' nor ever will again!)  I leapt up from my computer, in response to an uxorial order to get the hell out of my office and tart up for some forthcoming social jollies, and discovered that my head was spinning, and none too gently - a bit like that girl's in The Exorcist - and my legs had been transformed into damp cardboard which buckled under the weight.  And not a drop of festive punch or mulled wine yet touched!  

By next morning, the 'flu had increased my age from sixty four– all right, nearly sixty five –  to about a hundred and four and the day after that, my wife got the 'flu as well.  Even our two cats turned morose and more sedentary than usual and the moment my beloved younger daughter jetted in from abroad for the festivities, she went down with it as well.  Bummer!

We had five more relatives due by 24th and although no one else succumbed, the poor loves must have felt they'd arrived at a field hospital.  Since my youngest granddaughter - hereinafter knicknamed 'The Buster' - is not 2 until next May, it was necessary to barricade all the fires, in case she decided to try 'doing a Brunnhilde' by hurling herself into the flames.  That meant that to refuel the big kitchen inglenook, I had to bend myself like a contortionist, over a caged construction which would accommodate an adult and hyperactive chimpanzee, while manoeuvring large hunks of seasoned ash wood onto the grate.  

Now the joker who built that part of our house, back in the 18th century, certainly understood how to position beams, lintels and kingposts - but in those days everyone was about 4 feet high and I'm 6ft-2ins! The number of blows, to my already fevered head, while contorting myself to service the fires, was  therefore prodigious and I suspect, delayed my recovery.  I also tore some back muscles, when carrying a full basket of logs, and now walk with an disconcerting list to port as well as taking about five minutes to loosen up, whenever I've been sedentary for more than a few moments.  The Tin Man from Wizard of Oz is lissome and supple, in comparison!

And the final blow was a stiff email from a very close relative who I absolutely worship, telling me off for being far too cynical in this blog, particularly where farmers are concerned.  I will reform, I promise!

But my woes were nothing to those our my poor wife and hostess who had to keep rising from her sick bed to baste, roast, chop, peel, direct and of course, like the rest of us, run after The Buster, to rescue her from all manner of perils.  It is quite remarkable that someone a mere 19 months old can zoom about at such speed, and with such dogged determination.  And would it be sexist to say that 19 month-old girls are infinitely more ballsy than boys of the same age?

But back to the horticultural five-year-old.  
By way of conversation, on Boxing Morning, and to try to take her mind off the preoccupations of the day - broken toys, missing batteries, the absence of more parcels to unwrap - I said:
'By the way, how's your fuchsia?'
'Dead, of course,' she responded, adding, 'it's winter, Grandpa.'  

She returned her attention to one of a trio of little doll things she had been given, each with long, slinky, sexy legs, a bust and worrying hair, and seemed to be trying to dislocate its arm. Suddenly, in a solicitous but chillingly unnatural voice, the hideous mannikin breathed and said, in tinny accents that blended Connecticut with Hong Kong: 'Hi!  I'm your friend!'  How on earth could a rooted cutting of  Fuchsia magellanica 'Lady Bacon' compete with that?

Friday 19 December 2008


'The holly bears a berry, as red as any blood. . .'

Ilex aquifolium  'Golden van Tol'

What is this dreadful word Winterval?  I won't have a bar of it, I won't, I won't!  Who coined it? Woolworths?  The world's Bankers?  It's smarmy and horrible, a loathsome politically correct mongrel!  Almost as cringe-making as 'Crimbo' or 'Crimble.'

I wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas, but I'm told that could be offensive for some reason, so I've been torturing my brain to come up with a suitable name for midwinter merrymaking.   I gather that quite a few people did Yuletidy things – hung up holly, kissed under the mistletoe and gave gifts – long before the birth of Christ, so I presume all the feasting has something to do with celebrating the winter solstice.  

So I've come up with the perfect PC greeting.   Since 'perinatal' means 'the time immediately before and after birth,' I thought a similar word derivation might do for the period immediately before and after the winter solstice.  I admit that the result sounds a bit like intestinal movements but that, after all, is what goes on rather a lot, when one's eaten turkey, plum pudding, Christmas cake, mince pies etc. etc. etc.

So here goes:  Look below the picture for your brand new, perfectly PC, seasonal greeting –

'Lo, how a rose e'er blooming. . .'

Rosa 'Scharlachtglut' in snow.


And just to stick to the anatomical, may I also wish you, for the 1st of January, 2009, 
a joyful Circumcision.  Ouch!  But I trust you get the point!

'In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Snow had fallen, snow on snow .  . .'

Snow in the apple orchard at Careby, circa 2000

I'll be back in the blogosphere, subject to not being scragged by grandchildren, alcohol poisoning and the Credit Crunch, early in the New Year.  Until then. . .

Monday 15 December 2008


A robin, at the RHS Garden, Rosemoor, photographed a couple of years ago.  Robins are aggressive loners in the bird world, tolerating none of their kind anywhere near their territory, except for sex and breeding.  And yet they have been chosen to symbolise Christmas, the season of peace and goodwill among mankind.  A delicious irony!

It's been far too cold to garden lately - well, that's my excuse anyway.  So here's something different.

love Marcus Brigstocke's satirical monologues.  Compared to his diatribes, the timid little rants posted on this blog from time to time  –  and flatteringly coined as 'colborning' by certain Award Winning Journalists – are but feeble milksoppery.  His railing about BT Broadband on BBC Radio 4's The Now Show, for instance, had me convulsed with an almost unendurable mixture of sympathy, hysterical laughter and blind rage.  I had been trying to get connected to broadband, via BT, at the time of the broadcast, so his piece struck a particular chord.  The BT connecting service was BAD BAD BAD in every possible way from start to finish.

But Mr Brigstocke's more recent rant made me blush. He was satirising not just the commercial tinsel and tat of Christmas - I think we all hate that - but also the nauseatingly cheap sentimentality that tends to go with this month of drinking, eating, skiving and other Yuletide jollies.  That felt like a personal dig, and I reacted like a small boy caught pinching sweets from the cupboard.  Let me explain:

I never fail to become infected by soppy sentimentality at Christmas. I've even been caught listening to Bing Crosby before the December dates move into double figures and worse, the other night, we watched that most drippy of films, Love, Actually.

It's an awful piece of cinematic drivel, but I absolutely adore every moment of it.  The plot - plot? Don't be ridiculous! - has everyone kissing and hugging and doing all sorts of warm, cuddly things together, 'cos it's Christmas.  The one saving grace, in this chocolate coated marshmallow of a movie is the Bill Nighy story strand.  He plays a superannuated rock star, ravaged by sex, drugs and bad music, but seeking a revival by converting one of his earlier songs into the cheeeeziest and most awful Christmas Pop Song possible.   It's so bad that it rockets to Number One, proving that popular taste will always go for rock bottom.  (And speaking of bottoms, Nighy vows to strip off to the buff, the 'full monty' if his number manages to top the charts.)

Over the next couple of weeks, I expect to be bathing in warm, treacly sentiment, Brigstocke notwithstanding.  And the seasonal goodwill thing really does work.  I found myself in the friendliest of conversations with a taxi driver, on Wednesday, when we discovered that we both had the same number of children and grandchildren at roughly similar ages and genders.  (Isn't that nice!) And that happened in London - surely one of the world's unfriendliest cities -  where, on the very same day, someone barged into me at Oxford Circus tube station, distracted by trying to speak on his mobile and eat a croissant at the same time, and then paused, looked me in the eye, smiled - yes, smiled! -  and said 'Whoops, sorry!' How rare is that?

So, for the next few days, at Chez Colborn we'll be getting immersed in some intensely warm and cuddly things.  We'll be watching several versions of Scrooge on DVD with the grandchildren, including the one made by the Muppets with Michael Caine!  It's easily the best and most intellectually stimulating.  Also on the DVD list are The Wizard of Oz, Miracle on 34th Street, Little Women, Polar Express - you know the sort of thing.

Gardening will be limited to picking a few bits of greenery and digging up a Nordman Fir, to put in our sitting room for the grandchildren to decorate, and then to wreck.  It's a tree I planted five years ago, but which is now in entirely the wrong place, ie, on the spot where the Colborn Greenhouse is to be built next year - unless credit crunch, banking incompetences and the limitations of old age intervene.

So, strictly no Bah Humbug, if you don't mind!  Kick off your inhibitions, rush out and hug someone today, even if it's only a tree!

I'm listening to Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols.

Last night's film was Paris, Texas - Wim Wenders' masterpiece about breaking and mending human relationships, and about the intrinsic goodness in some people - but not the least bit sentimental.  The soundtrack, of Ry Cooder's slide guitar playing, is the most haunting and beautiful of almost any film made.

On this date in 2005, I was overhauling my elderly, but still serviceable Macintosh Powerbook Titanium laptop computer and re-installing its operating software, before giving it to my daughter.  And I see from my diary, that in the evening we watched - no, really, it's true - Love Actually!

Wednesday 10 December 2008


Our autumn border in frost.

Out on my bike this afternoon, after beating my head against the wall, trying to write a rushed piece all morning, I was enchanted to discover that ice was still covering the puddles.  What chilly joy!  What toe-tingling, ear-nipping, breath-steaming delight to have a December day that really feels like winter!  It almost enables you to forget climate change and think about chillblains and burst pipes.  (But I expect  you're all too young to remember those!)

You can't imagine what utter jolly delight it is, on your bike, to go whizzing  through frozen puddles, hearing a satisfying crunch.  Not only do have the spine-tingling naughtiness of smashing something beautiful, but you also know that no one else can do the same.  You've grabbed the puddle's cherry, as it were, and that's that.  All that remains are shards of muddy glass, littering the road.

Frost has been nicely timed, this year.  I got my dahlias lifted, at last, just before the promise of overnight temperatures below minus 5C - that's, erm, 23Fahrenheit for friends across the puddle.  (By the way, that's quite cold for England) - and managed to get part my cache of well rotted, friable compost barrowed and spread.  

Helleborus foetidus

That, in itself, creates a dilemma of conscience and principle.  Let me explain.  For years, now, I've ranted and railed about the hateful habit of putting the autumn garden to bed by cutting everything herbaceous down to ground level.  It's a pernicious practice for a gamut of reasons: it reduces cover for wildlife; it cuts down the amount of feed available for seed-eating birds; it exposes the perennials to the full rigour of winter and, above all, a shorn border look miserable and depressing and unnatural and brown and dull and hateful.

So my borders tend to resemble the picture at the top of this post.  Hardly surprising since the picture is one of my borders!  And in frost, or snow they look lovely.  They don't look bad earlier in autumn, either, when the plants are gently subsiding into their annual Liebestod - if that's how you spell it.

Osmanthus delavayi

But how the heck are you supposed to barrow heaps of compost among moribund perennials, or over them or between them without making a disgusting mess?  I've tried the discreet forkful here, handful there approach but that takes for ever.  In desperation, I've pushed wheelbarrows over and kicked the stuff about.  That, at least, gives one more exercise, but it doesn't get the good stuff spread.

Buddleja 'Lochinch'

And another thing: what do you do about plants that get so wind-bashed or flop so much that they just look plug ugly?  The purist in my says 'watch, observe, rejoice in the decay, accept the entropy, the return to chaos.'  But the artist in me – no, that's bragging, I've as much artistic sense as funky gibbon –  the fragment of aesthetic sense which still lurks in my head says 'remove the offending limb for the good of the rest.'  

Sorry, I'm writing even more nonsensical drivel than usual.  The pictures are frost on leaves or catkins - pictures of compost look horrible, however you dress them up.  

Corylus avellana 'Contorta' 

This time last year I was - and do hope James doesn't resent me for scobbing his idea of doing this - I was watching the film Of Human Bondage with Leslie Howard and, for once in her acting life, a surprisingly wooden Bette Davis.  (It's  not good memory - I've just checked my diary.)

I'm listening to L'Enfance du Christ' by Berlioz.

Friday 5 December 2008


The past few days have seen the passing of two people who were extremely special to me, and to many others.  Both men were remarkable for their kindness, their tireless energy and a supreme level of dedication and skill in their professional lives.  

Peter Buckley was a phenomenally successful financier, chairman or director of several major companies, inspired gardener and President of the Royal Horticultural Society.  When I joined the Society's Council he was Treasurer, guiding the finances during the most ambitious period of investment the RHS has ever seen. His extrovert friendliness and positive attitude were wonderfully infectious and when he was elected President, a couple of years ago, these qualities helped him to succeed in that difficult and challenging role.  

I've known few people with such energy.  He'd even make Margaret Thatcher look lazy, running his businesses, working day and night with, for example, 6 am Fundraising Breakfasts at Chelsea, late night phone conferences to the USA, globe trotting on business and commuting between his London home and his magnificent house and garden in Scotland each week.  There was never a moment to be lost, with Peter, and I suspect that if he had ever caught me sitting quietly, staring into space - one of my favourite occupations - he would ask, with great concern, what was wrong and how could he help?  

Out of the blue, Peter contracted pulmonary fibrosis.  There was no remission, sadly, and within a few weeks, this hideous disease literally took his breath away.  

Ron Grey was the most skilled carpenter I have ever known and also a fanatically keen gardener.  His craftsmanship was unsurpassable, particularly when working on the irregular shapes and awkward corners with which old houses like ours abound.  He could look at a surface, even if it was irregular, adze-hewn oak, and then, purely by eye, cut a piece of timber to the required shape.  Nine times out of ten, the old and new wood surfaces would fit like a hand in a glove.  I never once heard him crow in triumph, if he got it right, but self-blaming vexation would be written all over his face if he got it wrong.

Ron was one of ten children, born in the Fens, near where I live.  Over thirty years, he has been a regular visitor, building, mending, repairing, always working in challenging situations, always with a profound respect for, and knowledge of the materials of his trade.  He was quiet, modest, generous and thoughtful and by all accounts, a kind father and devoted husband as well.

When, soon after moving to our new house, I fell behind with my vegetable gardening, he brought a car boot full of young leeks, runner beans and brassicas, ready to plant out.  He even offered to plant them for me.  And when I mentioned, wistfully, that I was unable to find a source of Yucca gloriosa anywhere, he turned up with one of those, too, dug from his own front garden.  It still grows in a place of honour, in our yard.

Ron came on Monday 24th November to begin a week's work, repairing and refurbishing part of the house. He died suddenly, from a cardiac infarction that evening.

The world is poorer for the loss of both these good, kind men.   But I'm thankful for their lives, and for having known both of them.

Wednesday 3 December 2008


No ranting, I promise.  But a big swank instead:  I think I've just grown the fastest narcissus in the west!  Twenty three (23) days, from slightly wizened, dry bulbs, bought on impulse at a local garden centre to the pictures shown here.  It took even less time, only 21 days from scratch, for the first petals to unfurl.  (Yes, all right tepals, if you're a botano-pedant.)  Can anyone beat that?

There used to be a thing about getting bulbs to bloom for Christmas.  I can't imagine why, when windowsills are already burdened with cards, candles and tinselly things, that it should be de rigeur to add bowls of hyacinths to the clutter.  But it was, and when I was a boy, if my father couldn't get his first hyacinths to open and release their rather sickly scent, by the time the nervous little treble from Kings College, Cambridge was singing One in Royal David's City on the BBC Home Service at 3pm on Christmas Eve, he'd sulk until New Year's Eve.  Golly, that was a long sentence!  Isn't it simply divine, not having an editor to disapprove?

Narcissus papyraceus - the paperwhite narcissus - a native of southern Spain and
 Gibraltar where I've seen it flowering in the wild.

I bought these bulbs –  Narcissus papyraceus  – on impulse when I called at our local garden centre for a bag of potting compost.  They looked miserable and shrivelled, in their little display pack, so I took 'em home and gave them the gravel treatment.

The procedure is so easy:  Take a chipped and rather ruinous salad bowl and partially fill it with gravel.
All you need: a knackered but watertight bowl or pot, gravel or shingle, bulbs, water and a bright windowsill.

6th November.  Half fill the bowl with gravel and place bulbs gently onto surface.  

6th November.  Simply add water and keep the level to just beneath the bulbs.

6th November.  Top with pretty pebbles, to decorate the surface - on loan from my fancy scree garden.

15th November - watch them grow faster and faster!

29th November - Twenty three days after planting, this is how they looked.

The pot at its best, just before the stems get weak, too long and begin to collapse!

It's all so simple!  No dark period, no special bulb compost - just bung 'em into a bowl with shingle and await the results. That must be as close to instant gardening as you can get.  But if anyone out there has got them to bloom faster, I'd love to know.

These are late-autumn bloomers, in their native Iberia, and are pretty closely related to N. tazetta.  Most of the commercial ones are from an improved stock with flowers larger and whiter than the wild species.  They're also intensely fragrant, but the perfume has rather excremental undertones.  I walked into the room where they grow, recently, when the door had been closed all day and thought one of the cats had got in and crapped on the carpet.  Isn't it odd, how odours can be vile or alluring, but have the thinnest dividing line between?  Good coffee can smell like crap, too, not to mention the best Havana cigars, but I adore the former and was once addicted to the latter.

This time last year, approximately - well, on 26th November - AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST James 'Le Chapeau' and I were playing to our largest audience - some 700 souls - with a Green with Envy show at the Princes Theatre Clacton.

I'm still listening to the boiler which is gurgling and hissing  along the lines of something written by Olivier Messiaen but is distinctly more melodious.

Thursday 27 November 2008


Haws - the fruit of Crataegus monogyna - 
a life-saver for birds, particularly migrant winter thrushes.

To all of you across the pond - a belated HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

My son arrived at our house yesterday in a towering rage, wheeling a bicycle with two flat tyres. One of the local farmers, it seems, was using a flail machine to cut his roadside hedges and as anyone - apart from my son - knows, whichever way a hawthorn twig lies, there will always be a spike pointing upwards. 

It would be unreasonable to resent the farmer for hedge cutting - a necessary chore to keep the growth dense, to size and stock-proof.  But does it have to be with those hideous and dangerous flail slashers?  And does it have to be now, when hedgerows are larders for wildlife?  

A juvenile blackbird enjoys ripening Amelanchier fruits in our garden.

Good farmers are careful and timely, overhauling their hedges and ditches with minimal damage. They avoid trimming in autumn, when wild fruits and seeds are so vital for sustaining birds, mammals and invertebrates; then, when they do cut, they manage the task with minimal intrusion.  But there are one or two bone-headed cretins who haven't a clue about conservation and worse, a few callous bastards who don't give a damn about wildlife, beauty or bicycle tyres. 

These idiots seem happy to smash and mangle verge-side shelter belts, injure hedgerow trees and, of course, wreck the hedges themselves.  One in my previous village would wait until the wild blackberries were ripe and luscious, and would then get out his vicious, dangerous, hideous flail slasher and bugger everything up, not only for those wanting blackberry and apple crumble for Sunday lunch, but also wrecking things for late butterflies, arriving migrant fieldfares and redwings, resident thrushes, wrens, tits (whoops, pardon missis, no double entendre intended)  voles and field mice - not to mention bees, hover flies and other invertebrates.

Since farmers receive more than £2billion in subsidies, allegedly for stewardship of the land, perhaps there should be more careful policing of just how that dosh gets spent.  Farmers who turn out to be crap at such essential husbandry should be trained, perhaps, or at the very least, educated.  One wonders, though, how much of that £2billion goes towards the next BMW, rather than on building up skylark numbers, making life easier for barn owls or encouraging verge-side cowslips.  

But enough ranting!  Stop it!  Stop it!!  Stoppit!!!

The bountiful summer of 2006, when berries of wild privet hung like  grapes.

No, what I really wanted to say was that the autumn berries seem to be holding out remarkably well this year.  We have cotoneasters still in full fig, lots of hollies burgeoning for the coming festivities, viburnums, hips, haws and so on.  Lots of colour, lots of joy!

I wondered how such bounty had come about, when spring was so vile and the past summer so wet.  In previous bad years, I seem to remember that yields were poorer but perhaps, since this is the second wet summer in a row, all the excessive growth of 2007 has resulted in more fruit. Plants have a remarkable ability to adjust their behaviour to prevailing conditions - even though they'd be pretty crap at scratching an itch! 

Purging buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, food plant of the 
brimstone butterfly, but also provider of food for autumn birds.

I was trawling through my picture library and discovered a batch of images shot on 21st November 2006, in a nature reserve on Thurlby Fen.  The summer had been an exceptionally warm and dry and the most familiar, showy fruits covered the scrubby vegetation in staggering profusion –  blackberries, rose hips, hawthorns, honeysuckle and startling scarlet bryony berries.  But there was also a rich band of tenors and basses, supporting these jazzy trebles. Cloudy grey dewberries – or were they dewy grey cloudberries? – dotted the knee-high undergrowth near the hedge bottoms and on the normally nondescript wild privets and purging buckthorns, black, gleaming berries hung like ripening grapes.  

The birds were treated to a sumptuous banquet, that winter, and I returned to the reserve dozens of times, feeling sure that such abundance would attract our handsomest winter migrant birds – the waxwings. But did I see one?  Did I heck!

As a PS - I don't know what pushed me into ranting about farmers at the top of this post.  I was inspired, indirectly, to write about the berries by this world famous  AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST designer and hatstand .  He usually ends his posts with a note on what he is listening to and what he was doing this time last year - hence my trawl of piccies from the past.

I listening, by the way, to our central heating boiler which is sounding distinctly odd.  Brewing up, I suspect, for its usual Yuletide malfunction.

Friday 21 November 2008


Well, that's got the Garden Media Guild awards lunch out of the way.  What a bun fight!  It can't be healthy to have so many competitors crammed into one large room but everyone seemed to be in jolly form and it was lovely to see so many old faces - some even older than mine! 

Deepest gratitude to my gracious hosts, Garden World Images who tolerated me at their table. Thank you, thank you! 

The venue, the Royal Lancaster, was pretty much yer  bog standard big London hotel banquet room, but it distinguishes itself by having quite the ugliest crystal chandeliers ever devised.  These are buried in deep, rectangular, upside-down pits and are squat, non-sparkly and unbelievably heavy-looking - a perfect example of opulence overruling taste.  

The food was a tad chef-tastic but despite that, not bad.  For starters, the thing resembling a miniature Egyptian fez turned out to be tomato cheesecake, mounted on a mashed up McVitie's digestive biscuit garnished with asparagine slivvers.   I wondered whether the labour cost of splitting the hundreds of asparagus spears longitudinally cancelled the savings made on having to buy less of the stuff in the first place.  (Have you noticed how, within minutes of eating asparagus, your wee smells different?  It's the result of a sort of metabolic short cut. Miraculous, innit?  But as ever, I digress!)    Guinea fowl followed and then another mini-fez, identical in texture to the first, but a paler hue and blander flavour,  this time served with a small, moist, slightly glistening thing which the menu said was poached pear. 

The showmanship bit was handled deftly and wittily by the charming Andy McIndoe and the sound and visuals were good.  I suspect they used the superb Macintosh software known as Keynote, rather than the infinitely more clunky and user-hostile PowerPoint.  And the howler at the conclusion, when Michael Warren's portrait came on screen before he was named as recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, did not spoil things at all.  It was good to see his picture while his credentials were recited, and deeply satisfying to see such a deserving winner. Big congrats, Michael! 

The rest of the awards themselves held few surprises and a lot of very, very,  familiar names cropped up in the shortlists.  But two winners were such a thrill to see that I decided then and there, that my next blog post would fete them!

First, Newspaper of the Year.  This was not a big budget, high flying National Daily - though two were in the shortlist. No, it was the previously make-d0-and-mend, now shiny sparkly and revitalised GARDEN NEWS.   And no prize could be more richly deserved!  Times had been tough, for this horticulturally superb weekly.  The paper suffered a prolonged period of uncertainty, pinched budgets, minimal publicity and downright lack of support from its previous owners, EMAP, but now, with new proprietors, seems to be flourishing. Long may it continue, and to Editor Neil Pope, Gardening Editor Clare Foggett and all the team, huge, huge, heartfelt congratulations.  (And thank you, thank you for renewing my contract!)

I've left my other top, top fave award until last:  Jacques - Le Chapeau - A-S.  received a surprise award for top blog.  This is the man who inspired me to leap into the blogosphere with my own lame, faltering offerings.  He had nagged me to visit his blog for ages, but I never did - idle bastard that I am.  But one day, when Googling for something completely different, I stumbled on the Blackpitts blog and wasted the next hour or so, immersed in J A-S's outrageously funny, wicked, wonderful prose and longed to see more of his enchanting images.  Witty, wise, wicked - no wonder I was caught and held fluttering like Pieris brassicae in a cobweb.  So, James, if I had a hat as big as yours, I'd lift it high in your honour!  As it is, I have to be content to tug what old age, male pattern baldness and my barber have left me to serve as a forelock.

Blogger extraordinary - up a gum tree, as usual.

Tuesday 18 November 2008


There's a deliciously bizarre exhibish of Chrysanthemums, just now, in the ritzy glasshouse at the RHS Garden, Wisley. 
Exploding fireworks - Japanese Chrysanthemums at Wisley

I went there last week to photograph the collection of Plectranthus - which is utterly fascinating - but the surprise show that utterly bowled me over was a staggeringly colourful display of potted chrysanthemums.  

Let's not call these big, jolly flowers 'naff' or 'crass' or 'garish' or 'loud' or 'jazzy.'  Tawdry, they most definitely aren't, but I could still see one or two of the more genteel class of Home Counties ladies wot lunch wincing a bit at the strength of the colours and shuddering with carefully suppressed disdain at the size, my dear, the sheer vulgar size of some of the blooms. To me, though, it was the perfect antidote to a dull November day - big flowers, bright colour, startling combinations.

The centrepiece, and by far the most interesting bit of the display, is taken up by what I assumed to be a group of classic Japanese varieties.  But was there a label anywhere?  No! Was there any interpretation?  No!  Did we know what the hell we were looking at? Well, I didn't. Indeed, some of the blooms were so bizarre and distinctive that I wondered whether they were chrysanthemums at all.  Some looked like elegantly shredded coconut; others like drowning spiders.  The ones which impressed me most were singles with huge, floppy ray florets which sagged and curled under their own weight.  I tried curator  Jim Gardiner's blog for more info, when I got home but his picture captions are strikingly uninformative!  I'm on the case, though, and will find out more when time permits.

I believe this variety is called 'Kokorozukasi' which might mean 'Sincerity'
- but I honestly don't know.  Pretty, though, isn't it?

I tried Googling, when I got home, and discovered that Japanese for 'chrysanthemum' is 'kiku.' Rather an easier word than our own, and less ambiguous than the American 'Mum.'  (I was given a plant, once, called a 'cushion Mum' but when I sat on it, it got squashed. I wonder if there's one called a Hockey Mum?)  China and Japan were both developing this genus long before its introduction into Europe, so it's hardly surprising that they've followed different lines.

British breeders of all plants tend to work very hard to make their varieties as ugly and unnatural as possible. The same cannot be said for the Japanese.  They certainly have their Frankensteins - there's very little natural about what I saw at Wisley - but they develop their cultivars in a completely different way.  The long, elegant petals of some - so frail that they need special supports, fixed just beneath the blooms - I thought were beautiful.  As they mature, the ray florets curl, like fur on a poodle.  Compared with the British chrysanthemums - solid, clumping, mops on sticks - their flowers spoke a language, commanded respect and awe.  They are clearly part of an ancient and revered lineage.

Adjacent to the big display, there's a trial going on, of late flowering chrysanthemum varieties which is well worth walking through and gives excellent ideas for what to grow at home - and what not to grow!  So if you're within a mile or two of the M25, in the next couple of weeks, get yourself over to Wisley.  It's a whisker south of the A3/M25 junction

Part of the chrysanthemum display in the Glasshouse at Wisley

The Plectranthus collection I mentioned is pretty amazing, too, but more of that anon. 

Monday 10 November 2008


Raindrops on Chrysanthemum 'Innocence'

No sun, no moon, no joy, no deal!  Black skies, rain, rain, rain, gales, gloom, dark afternoons, dead plants, claggy ground, clammy dead leaves everywhere - and  it's all absolutely m-a-a-a-h-velous!   This wonderful time of decay, death and despair, made all the more poignant, this year by economic doom and dead bees. Ooooh, the 'carrion comfort!'  Delectable!  For anyone who likes Wagner, Ibsen and the poems of Wilfred Owen, November is the month.  So chuck your optimism into the foot locker, don a sack cloth, find Strauss's Four Last Songs on your iPod and contemplate death.  And a happy Liebestod to all!

Eerie light and a sudden stillness, after violent rain, tempted me to pull on the wellies and go into the garden a little while ago.  The brightly lit raindrops were a joy to behold, particularly where they caught the colours of the petals on which they hung.  The dahlias may be history but late chrysanthemums are still showing jolly colours, despite the earlier frosts.  Korean kinds do best for me and I particularly love the plummy pink button blooms of 'Mei-Kyo,' as well as all of its colour sports.  The single-flowered, spray types are top whack border plants, too, lasting well in the wet and shrugging off the frosts.   I was given the variety 'Innocence' after delivering a lecture at Reading, a couple of years ago, having been told that it was rescued from the brink by the NCCPG.    Whatever its history, I love it for the pearly pink, greenish-yellow centred daisy blossoms.

Lots of buds on the witch hazels, too, but not a bloom yet, whereas the scorpion vetch or crown vetch or punchily named Coronilla valentina ssp. glauca var. citrina (picture above) has come gloriously into flower.  The fragrance is complicated, just on the cusp between sweet and sickly, but the flower colour, against the glaucous foliage is sublime.  And now that flowering is properly under way, it will be in good colour until next August at the earliest.

Back to the NCCPG.  What a lot it has achieved, since its early days back in the 1970s!  But what a long way further it must go, now that technology has presented us with so many more opportunities for improved plant conservation.  'Eh?'  'Do what?' I hear you cry.    Well its obvious, innit?  The internet, an obsessive nature, computaphilia and extreme nerdiness  are the most vital keys to success in conserving all those plant varieties which nobody wants to grow anymore, but which we'd all be sad to see disappear.

There are gazillions of us planty folk out here,  who are vaguely computer literate, and who could all contribute to conservation, simply by keeping in touch and reporting on which threatened plants we've managed to kill, and which - despite our inept husbandry - are doing OK.  We need a central body, like the NCCPG - but with a much, much more open mind to new possibilities - to start allowing us amateurs to build up a whacking great database.

That way, we'd, we'd all be collection holders; that way, it would be easy to pinpoint exactly how every known cultivar is doing.  Those unfortunate varieties which are run down to the last few recorded locations - probably through every fault of their own, largely because they are likely to horrible or disease-ridden plants - would become candidates for Special Rescue Schemes, where volunteers would agree to allow them in their gardens, to propagate them and to find other volunteers willing to take on the progeny.  

Mind you, I can imagine some of the ugly ducklings which no on would want!  The rose 'Masquerade'  - who could possibly love flowers that look like blood and custard.  Rose 'Tequila Sunrise?'  - even worse - like a broken egg containing a  half-developed chick embryo. Snapdragons mutated so that the flowers won't snap - what's the point of those?  The border phlox 'Norah Leigh' which looks as though someone has been sick over it - that would have to go, along with any plant which has the variety name 'Harlequin.' 

But conservation is not about likes and dislikes.  It has to be holistic, and a modern, techno-based initiative would be an excellent way to take things forward.  The plant world deserves it, particularly as new introductions come so thick and fast, nowadays, only to last a season or two before being abandoned for more novelties.  So let's get on with it.

Finally, BIG thanks to those who commented on DEFRA.  The bee petition at  http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/SaveTheBee  has been signed and details forwarded to as many of my friends as possible - well, to both of them!  If you haven't yet signed it, and you like honey - get online at once!  What?  Oh, of course you're already on line. 
Sorry, and bye bye!


Wednesday 5 November 2008


Fishing quotas have not endeared DEFRA to British fishermen.  (Words on the van, photographed on the Norfolk Coast, read:  'DEFRA SUCK's but they ain't FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS.  (Non Brits might want to know that 'Fisherman's Friends' are a brand of cough candy.  This has nothing to do with physical expressions of affection.)

First, hurrah for Obamaramarama, my out and out hero and glam noo leader (elect) of the free world! Huzzah and Gadzooks for a great geezer.  A happy piece of news to wake up to today.

But apart from that, I'm fuming!  I was guest at a lovely dinner at the Tower of London, on Monday night dining among glittering uniforms and highly distinguished bods, but after this posting, I will probably end up going back the The Tower, this time being dragged in backwards, through the Traitor's Gate.  

Now then.  Pay attention while I rant, please.  

A piece of news yesterday, coupled with more recent tales of woe among beekeepers (sorry, its the bloody bees again) had me leaping out of bed at 5.45 am and committing acts of extreme violence against the curtains, the tea kettle and anything else I could knock about or rip up.  

Rage is an ugly thing, but not half as ugly as the hideously bloated government ministry that calls itself DEFRA.  If ever there was a dog's breakfast of a department, DEFRA is it.  Those on the other side of the puddle, in the newly Blessed and Sunlit Upland of  Obamadom, may wish to know that the acronym stands for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

This Orwellesque megaministry is responsible for pretty much anything that happens outdoors or at sea.  It was a brainchild of the 1997 Blair government, the result of cobbling together most of the ministries that New Labour didn't give much of a damn about:  agriculture, fisheries, the environment, English Nature - -  you know -  the sort of un-hip, non Brit-pop muddy things that didn't float the spin doctors' boats at all.  It progressed quite quickly, from dog's breakfast to pavement pizza and by now has pretty well pissed off all farmers, fisherman, naturalists, environmentalists and a lot more folk besides.

One of DEFRA's most outstanding achievements was to be so late in making subsidy payments to farmers - more than a year overdue - that the EC imposed a massive fine.  We tax payers foot the bill for that, of course, as well as funding the subsidies for the aforementioned sons of the soil.  DEFRA also closed down a number of key research stations including one near here, where crucial research work was being carried out on the effects of climate change on our flora and fauna.

But DEFRA's latest offering takes the biscuit - literally, if you're a dog.  They've produced a document telling us pet owners how to look after our animals.  This government department is telling us  - IS TELLING US!!! - that we've got to watch for signs of stress when introducing cats to dogs.  And that we should provide separate loo facilities for each individual cat in our household.  Also, we've got to provide suitable toys and entertainment for our cats.  WHAT DID IT COST TAX PAYERS TO PRODUCE THIS TWADDLE?

I acknowledge that animal welfare is important, and that some pet owners need guidance.  But we have charities like the RSPCA who do superb work in that area and the amount of information on pet care, in all medias, is vast. 

Meanwhile, this morning on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today I heard that British Bee Keepers would be demonstrating in London because British honey supplies have been so diminished that national stocks will run out by Christmas.  Our entire bee industry wants £8 million to be set aside for research into Varroa, Colony Collapse Disorder and other problems.  

But DEFRA says that, 'in these difficult economic times,' it can't afford to provide that sum even though the industry is in crisis.  Eight measly million!  That's barely even a couple of Banker's salaries!  

We may not produce vast quantities of honey, in Britain, but it is still an important part of our agriculture.  Our honeys are distinctive in flavour, cost little to produce and enrich the choice of quality foods at the top end of the market.  They always sell at a substantial premium, so one assumes they must be extremely popular.

It's so sad to learn that the ministry which wants to spend money telling us stuff like this:  

'You should ensure that your cat has enough mental stimulation from you and from its environment to avoid boredom and frustration . . . It is your responsibility to provide opportunities for your cat to satisfy all of its behavioural needs, such as play and companionship. ..'   
                            is not interested, at the same time,  in helping out a small but precious sector of our food production industry, not to mention, the most important of all plant pollinators, the poor, dying bees!   HARRRUMMMPHHHH!!!!

Ooooh some people do go on!  Sorry!  Sorry!!  Flowers and pretties next time, I promise!

Sunday 2 November 2008


                                  Medwyn Williams' whopping veggies.

After struggling with a half dismembered whitebeam tree all weekend, it's a joy to come into the warmth and dryness of my study, and to visit the Blogosphere again.  Not unnaturally, after so much hard gardening, one's thoughts turn to food.

A propos of which, Robinsons vegetable seed catalogue arrived yesterday.  I love it, not because it has a wider range of vegetable seeds than anyone else, but because the firm has so much history.  

This is a family business,  founded by William Robinson in 1860.  Not the Gravetye Manor Robinson who wrote The English Garden - nasty piece of work he was, by the  way, but as ever, I digress.  I ramble.  Stop it! Get to the point!!  Robinsons is still relatively small, still run by the family and still brings life, zest and interest to the RHS flower shows.  They specialise in big things, so for size queens - among vegetable gardeners - they are a must!  Giant cabbages and monster Kelsae onions are their stock in trade.  But Robinsons sell lots of other great stuff too. I bought Tromboncini type climbing courgettes - not big, but wonderful for flavour and growing very long (and coming in a variety of very rude shapes) They graced my nasty, cheap-looking metal obelisk, last summer and made it look quite nice.  

Robinsons offer lots of intersting chilli peppers, too, and their tomato range looks mouthwateringly good.  They are at www.mammothonion.co.uk

There are far too few vegetable exhibits at the big RHS shows.  The most spectacular showman, veg-wise, is Medwyn Williams. His parsnips are longer, and onions more curvaceous and his tomatoes more glistening and glorious than anyone elses.  I've just been editing pictures we shot at Hampton Court  - yes, I'm that far behind with the work! - and was amazed to recall that Medwyn's carrots can even get erections.

Medwyn's upright carrots.

Thursday 30 October 2008


 That damaged medlar tree I told you about (see TOO MUCH MEDDLING.)  I had my pocket camera with me this time.  A rubbish pic, but thought you'd like to see it.

Well thanks, everyone, for responding to the first in the GLOOMY FOREBODINGS series with such valiant optimism!  

VP -  this will absolutely NOT be a regular series.  Re-reading it depressed even me, and I don't think I could manage such posts more than once in a while.   I love the Robert Preston comment, by the way!

James - I've a notion that you may have called me a miserable old sod a time or two anyway  - but if you haven't, you should!

Victoria - thanks for the info on possible links between imidacloprid and colony collapse.  I take these seriously and will investigate them further.  I would, however - at risk of bringing the wrath of several of you onto my head - need to see documented evidence of such links, from an impartial, scientifically based source, before being convinced.  Information like this, while important and of great interest, would test my credulity somewhat, if it came only from pressure groups such as the Soil Association.   And at the risk of further rage from some of you, I must own up and admit that I do use Provado, occasionally, and I do recommend it as a highly effective remedy for such pests as vine weevils.

HOWEVER, if I can find convincing, documented evidence that there is such a link, I will not only stop using it forthwith, but will also never recommend it again.

r pete-free - Dracunculus is an excellent suggestion.  I'll plant some at once.  A lot of our prettier umbellifers are fly pollinated too, so I could add those as well.

The next post, I promise, will be cheerful and optimistic, if anyone will still speak to me, after reading the above!

Monday 27 October 2008


A startling discovery prompts me to start a new series of short posts catered exquisitely for the delectation of doom merchants.  

If  worries about climate change rob you of your sleep, this series will be specially for you.  If your bottle is half empty, this will be the miserable company in which you will find comfort.   If  you think the stock markets are nowhere near bottom yet, find joy in this new Jeremiah of a series.   

Anyway, enough of all that.  Kindly take a swift look at the photo which I shot in my garden a few days ago.  Notice anything wrong?  

Well, have another look, then.  

Got it now?  That's right.  There is  not a seed in sight - just aborted embryos.  And the whole point of honesty, Lunaria annua, is that you're supposed to be able to see the dark, flat seeds through the beautiful transparent pods.  But the purses are empty because back in spring, we had crap weather and were desperately short of this plant's main pollinators, the bees.

The discovery reminded me of news coverage, during May, that the honey bee is now almost extinct in the wild, in Britain, largely because of the introduced varroa mite.  When I was a boy, they nested in our roof and in my last house, built with limesone, they nested in cracks in the mortar.  They also nested in the nearest piece of ancient woodland, in a hollow oak.  

But, if you see honey bees on your flowers, they will almost certainly be from hives, rather than the wild.  All is not well, even with domestic bees, where varroa is increasingly difficult to control, and where there is also a mystery affliction which causes colony collapse - the mad cow equivalent of a bee hive.
And as if that weren't worrying enough, most species of bumble bees are also either in decline or have suffered almost terminal population collapse.

This is a sorry state of affairs for all of us.  Apart from the missing hypnotic pleasure of dozing in a garden while bees buzz and hum along the flowers, there are more threatening implications.  Just stop to ponder on how many of our essential food crops are bee-pollinated. What if there were no more bees at all?  Ever!  Scary, isn't it?

Thursday 23 October 2008


There was a tragic moment, today, when I discovered an old friend, sadly brought down by age and infirmity.  

I walked from Kings Cross Station to the RHS Headquarters at Vincent Square - howzzat for good, green behaviour??!!  - but I digress.  My favourite route is through Bloomsbury, past the British Museum, across Tragalgar Square and then a leafy interlude through the Whitehall end of Saint James's Park.  

There's an ancient medlar tree that I've known and enjoyed there for nearly thirty years.  It has been well cared-for, with the down-curving, gnarled limbs carefully supported by props, and with old or dying branches removed  from time to time.  In spring, the solitary blossoms are a joy and all summer, it creates a companionable, dark green hump when foliage covers the stooping  boughs.

When I passed it today, however, I saw that much of the top growth has been removed, leaving a sadly disfigured wreck.  Before, it was quaint; now it's ugly and sad.  Whether gales or decay did this, I know not, but as a horticulturist, I suppose I should recommend its removal.  The remains would be chopped down and the roots removed, perhaps to make room for a 'more interesting' tree.  But it would break my heart if the Royal Parks did that.  Let's hope they bolster up the poor old wreck, as long as it can produce a flower or two in spring and a little foliage in summer.

As usual, I'd forgotten to take my pocket camera to Town, so no picture of my languishing loved-one I'm afraid.  The picture of the medlar fruit at the top is growing in Rosemoor and is a much more vigorous specimen.  Not a pretty sight, though, and a compelling explanation of the disgustingly anatomical name given by more raunchy Victorians to this fruit which is inedible until rotten.

Sunday 19 October 2008


                                   Miraculous mess - leaves on my lawn.

Here we are, in the most deliciously melancholy of seasons, watching the floral world subsiding to mush  - just as it should in October.  Colours are running through gentle changes and the sky is returning to our vistas and backdrops, as the branches become bare.  The trees seem happy to be shedding their scabrous clothes, like tired old tramps who've been offered bath and bed, and at our feet, shifting carpets of reds, browns, dun and beige rustle companionably as we walk over them. 

And yet all I see and hear are gardeners frenziedly raking and scraping, gathering up the unwanted harvest to pile up for leafmould or worse, to cram into their garden compost bins for the councils to remove.  Worst of all, some heap them to burn in fitful, acrid fires.  Bonfires?  They should be called malfires! 

I welcome the fallen leaves, loving the changing colours and enjoying dynamism as the garden scene transforms to winter.  The lawn looks beautiful, when leaf-strewn and on my borders, even though they look untidy, I can make myself be patient and wait for rotting to begin.  That is so much easier than the alternative of raking up, composting and then forking the leafmould back onto the soil after all that unnecessary work.

Leaf colour has been brief but brilliant for us this year.  Star trees were Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' (left) and Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' (below.)  They took ages to turn but then, instead of lingering sweetly on the trees, succumbed to the gales and were first shattered and then scattered.

We have to re-think leaves.   They are friends, rather than enemies and we should welcome them.   In the London parks, what little peace there is gets shattered on a daily basis by loud, pointless, petrol driven leaf blowers which shift them about the grass.  

Even among shrubs, instead of being allowed to lie and decay, they are feverishly hoiked out and piled up.  The process transforms them from naturally forming mulches into heaps of undesirable waste, to be disposed of rather than treasured.

Even at such conservation-minded places as the RHS Garden, Rosemoor, when I was last there, noisy blowers were shifting leaves across the lawns.
When we moved to our present garden, I was determined to run a 'slow gardening' policy with a laisser-faire approach to maintenance.  I make it a rule not to remove leaves from borders unless they are likely to damage vulnerable plants by over-lying them.  The whole place looks untidy for a while, but one learns to tolerate the mess.  The problem, I suggest, is in our heads, rather than in the leaves causing problems.  One can unclog gutters and claw matted, decaying leaves from drains or from between rocks in an Alpine garden.  But the rest can do no better than to lie, die and give their sustenance back to the soil.

The same principle goes for tidying up flower borders - but more on that anon.
Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' in October

Monday 13 October 2008


                                            The Severn Sea, from the Valley of the Rocks.

Oh, the beauty of this place!  The last heather flowers giving little touches of purple on the uplands, the terrifying ruggedness of the coastline, the intimacy of the deep, narrow valleys with their plush green mantle of ferns, mosses, gnarled oaks and shapely rocks.  Exmoor is somewhere I've frequently driven through, but seldom been intimate with.  Every gardener should be made to come here, to sit on a rock and drink in the natural line, the intricate geometry, the subtle texture blends and the mealy-mouthed ponies.  

                                  The East Lyn, above Lynmouth

I can foresee an 'important' seminar ahead, for all les Eminences Grises of the garden design world - James A-S should treat his howdy hat to a moorland excursion; Cleve should go West to view the dialogue twixt fern and rock; Monsignor Wilson - you must come to see how Nature planteth!  And at this seminar, all we'll do is sit silently, on chosen spots, and gawp.  No talking, no notes.  Just vision.

                                Our borrowed cottage garden shed.

There's a price to pay, for this beauty, though.  Seven days away from blogland and I'm a quivering jelly of withdrawal symptoms.  My fingers twitch for a keyboard, my heart sinks each morning, knowing that even if I boot up my laptop, I CANNOT, go on line.  Can't even send thought messages through the ether.  There's no signal for mobiles.  We've only got a phone, in the adorable cottage we've been lent, and hardly dare use that for fear of running up an unwelcome phone bill for our gracious hosts.  

Being tucked away in the middle of Exmoor is adequate consolation but I still yearned for contact with the bloggist community, despite being such a newbug.  I've only blogged for a number of days, but already I'm a total addict.  Is this healthy?  Probably not, but I'm too old to care.
                                   Ferns and dew - texture, colour, freshness.

I've often thought that the best parts of the two biggest west country moors are at their edges, rather than their deep interiors.  The Devon and Somerset coasts which make up the northern edge of Exmoor are some of the most rugged in England;  to the south, the transformation from hard, unyielding upland to the quilted patchwork between Exmouth and Tiverton is dramatic and stirring.  

A brief visit, to Knightshayes garden, on my way home, reminds me that the design works so well, not only because of the superb, south-facing terrace, but also because of the distant views.  Autumn colour at Knightshayes and at the RHS Garden Rosemoor is wonderful.  

A volunteer at Rosemoor told me that some of the visitors were really quite shocked at the daring colours in the magnificent newly installed Square Garden.   'Who would even think of putting that orange with that pink?'  was the sort of question he'd been asked.  Well, I would for a start and if it shakes up the Torygraph gardener, so much the better.  I love Rosemoor - the spirit of the place, the friendliness of the staff and welcoming feel of the garden is like no other.  And their kitchen garden is so cosy that one can relate to it.  The fan-trained bamboos there are superb, if a little spoilt by the plum trees that have been tied to them!

Earlier in the week, we walked the East Lyn Valley, from the prinked and cherished National Trust Caff at Watersmeet to the fish-and-chippy village of Lynmouth.  (I'll return to the NT in a later posting, with luck.)  The Village Inn, Lynmouth, gets the PMN Bad Taste Award for its hanging baskets - not so much horticultural decoration as floral diarrhoea.  

                                   The Village Inn, Lynmouth - with tasteful street furniture.

For natural beauty, the Valley of the Rocks - a doddle of a walk along the clifftops from Lynton - takes some beating (see pic) but watch out for rather officious goats which try to butt you over the cliffs when you bend to snap a picture.  Then, a drive along to Lee Bay, Woody Bay and over the top, back into Somerset, rounds off an inspiring day.

Back at home,  where it's flat, I'm trying to re-think the garden.  How does one conjure up that soft, quilted, gentle-coloured patchwork of the Westcountry landscape, in one's backyard.  I'm sure it can be done, but haven't quite worked out how.